Article by Hugo Crispim,
Third world capital, Luanda is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Luanda, a city of extraordinary beauty and disturbing scenes of poverty that will change you forever. I won’t lie to you the capitol of Angola is not a city for the faint of heart. It is not what I would call a typical family vacation spot. I like to call it “eye-opening” tourism.
The city faced more than 30 years of war and the blood spilled has only recently started to dry. Luanda only became a war-free zone in 2002 with the death of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi. The long years of destruction left the city in an unrecognizable state. “A bunch of shallow ruins in a once magical place”, like my grandmother says as she remembers the glorious days of the city.
Luanda is now facing rapid economic growth and major international corporations are investing heavily in the city and country, mostly due to the natural resources lying around in the African country, which include diamonds and petroleum.
“The future African Manhattan” as the locals call it, is now one of the most expensive cities in the world. Although only a small percentage of the population holds all the purchasing power while the rest, the grand majority, sadly left behind living in poverty.
Things are quickly changing in Luanda; it is becoming a real capitol. Soon, if it manages to continue as a war-free zone, it will transform itself in a marvelous but typical metropolis and all that chaos and harsh reality that can provide you a life-altering adventure will soon be a thing of the past.
Arriving in the City of Luanda
I landed in a brand new airport, much better than the little mosquito-filled building with no air conditioner that I faced the first time I was in Angola three years ago. As I stepped outside the airport, reality caught up with my mind and I knew I was in Africa. My ears were immediately attacked by extreme noise. Out of nowhere, I started sweating like I just finished a marathon. The smell of the land is marvelous, just different.
I could rent a car at the airport, but then again I’m not really a millionaire; besides there are young locals just outside waiting to make business. They are not taxi drivers, just people hoping to make some extra money. I would later find out that in Luanda, if any service is missing, the locals make a business out of it.
Driving across town I could not help but wonder how people get around in this seemingly lawless environment. It is excitingly chaotic and as I look around, an array of unrelated questions came to mind: “Where are the street names located?” “Why are there people just standing all around the cars?” “Why do motorcycles ride on sidewalks in every possible direction?” “Why does nobody care that a truck just literally ripped of a big portion of the sidewalk and not even bother to stop?” “Where are the parking spaces?”
“Take a deep breath,” I thought to myself. The initial shock was overwhelming but after I calmed down and plunged into the city I realized that all I had to do was to try to fit in. Once I did, I started to really see Luanda.
I quickly found out that those youngsters around the car would help me carry my entire luggage and would be at my disposal for anything else I needed; for a small fee of course. My life became easier and they have some money to place food on their family’s table – fair trade.
Locals sell everything in the middle of the streets. From local fruits (the mango is delicious), fresh bread, peanuts, and quitaba to entire car parts. It does come in handy when you have to spend hours in traffic just to get to a store to buy something.
Visiting the Rich and the Poor
Supposedly there is a rich and poor area in Luanda. In the end they all come together in one massive mess. When I was in the “musseques” – countless handmade houses lacking any of the commodities of a normal household and clearly overloaded with families – every few minutes you would see a brand new BMW or Hummer passing through and forming small muddy waves of flooded water where the children play in.
Luanda Bay is the only really touristy place inside the city, filled with extremely expensive bars and restaurants a few meters away from a golden beach with a breathtaking view. I could see not so far away from my ice cold cocktail families of locals living on the parts of the beach not owned by the bistros.
Mussulo Island – Moving Away From Reality
Passing “corimba” right outside the city area, I found the harbor. From there, and in less than ten minutes there are boats ready to take you to an African paradisiacal island, nothing similar to the reality I stumble upon in the Angolan metropolis.
This is Africa. There isn’t really a place where you can buy a ticket for a ferryboat, no. Across the shore I found some small motorboats. Around them I could see people and lots of bags lying around in the sand. “Is there a line to get in one of those boats?” After a while, a smiling native approached me. I gave him my bags and apprehensively boarded the uncontrollable boat being furiously battered by the unstopping waves.
After a short, bumpy, but all together safe, boat ride, I arrived at the shores of the golden sand Island. Breathtaking. The Island is a mixture of Tropical Island and splendorous beach coast. There are pool houses everywhere and you are more than welcome to enter and share a beer in most of them, even if you are a stranger in the neighborhood like I was.
I spent the rest of my days laying down in the beach eating right-out-of-the-net-fresh mind blowing seafood, enjoying the multiple water sports that the island provides (jet ski, kite surfing, snorkeling and more), and simply socializing with the friendliest people I have ever met. I thought to myself, “So that’s why people come to Luanda.”