Co-ordinates: 08º47.881’S, 013º14.648’E
Air Temperature: 29ºC
Sea Temperature: 28ºC
I had absolutely no idea what to expect from this visit to Luanda – the first visit ever by the Prince Albert II. My first impression of Luanda was the view from the Deck 6 outer deck as the ship sailed into the port – the city was huge! The port was absolutely packed with large ships (mainly oil tankers) and the shoreline was full of construction equipment. Apparently, the whole coastal strip of this city is undergoing a massive reconstruction and upgrade – I estimated about 100 large cranes all along the shore. This city is home to about 5 – 8 million people, a significant portion of the total 16 million in all of Angola.
The pilot boat came alongside at 8:30am, so we were right on time, docking at about 9:00am. We had been warned that the immigration process could take as long as 2 hours, but that was fine because our tour agent, Paul, came on board as well and gave us a short talk about Luanda and the changes that have taken place since the end of the Civil War in 2002. He clearly displayed a huge amount of hope and was very positive about the future of Luanda and Angola as a whole.
Soon after Paul was finished, at about 11am, we disembarked the ship and boarded onto 7 minibuses. These were actually extremely nice and looked like they were brand new. Much to our surprise and delight, they were air conditioned and very comfortable. The guides also spoke much better English than we thought they would – especially since English is the third or fourth language spoken here – the first being Portuguese and the second usually French. Our bus, numbered B2, had Nelson as our guide – a young lad from the northern part of Angola whose parents had come to Luanda during the civil war for safety.
Robin West, our Expedition Leader, had forewarned us yesterday that the agent had repeatedly told him how bad the traffic was going to be, and it was slow, but in all honestly it was not as bad as I had feared it would be. In fact, it allowed us to drive very slowly past many interesting sites – including the embassies of many countries, the main cemetery and a some of the old landmark colonial buildings such as the Ministry for Culture building, the Sao Miguel fort (built in 1576) and the pink-coloured National Bank of Luanda completed in 1956.
The original idea was that the 7 buses would split into two groups – A & B – and head off in different directions for the tour – thereby minimizing the crowds at each stop. However, somehow we ended up in convoy, all 7 buses, for the first few stops, then finally, once we had all stopped at the Augostinho Neto Mausoleum (a very Soviet designed monument), we finally spilt apart. Our group ended up visiting the quaint Church of Nazare, followed by the Cathedral. These churches were both built in the mid 1600s and have been carefully maintained – even through out the civil war.
We saw many more sites, including: the Palacio de Ferro (designed by Gustav Eiffel), the Palacio de Anna Joaquino – one of the biggest slave brokers in the region, the Sao Miguel Fort, and the Presidential Palace
And of course we drove down the main street along the shoreside – the Marginal – and up the long thin island called the Ilha, where people come to holiday on the beach.
Even as we sat in traffic for much of the time, we had a fantastic time – watching Luanda pass by our windows. It is such and interesting city with so much going on. The damage from the many years of war is very obvious, but so are the signs of recovery and healing, with a surge of construction. Luanda has recently surpassed Tokyo as the most expensive city in the world, and our guide told us that it is, in fact, very expensive to live there. But he also said that the government is working on building new schools and universities and is really pushing for the people to get an education – even the adults who did not get a chance to go to school during the wartime are being encouraged to go back to school.
For me, the highlight was the stop at the Anthropological Museum, where there is a fantastic collection of handicrafts and artifacts from the peoples of Angola. The final stop of the 5-1/2 hour tour was a stop at a restaurant right on the beach overlooking the Luanda Harbour. We were offered a glass of local beer, soda or water as we sat in the cool breeze and enjoyed the magnificent few of this city, which is in the process of rebuilding.
Luanda was an unexpected delight, and I feel absolutely privileged to be a part of this ship’s first visit here. I will go away with wonderful memories and the desire to return one day to hopefully see a new and vibrant city resurrected from a time of severe hardship.