Tuesday, August 17, 2010

12 - Last Train to Lobito

Benguela Railway at its sea terminus in Lobito
 The guidebook says there are four trains a day for the 30 kilometres to the major port of Lobito, sea terminus of the Benguela railway. It also says that although it takes 90 minutes and you ride in cattle trucks, it's far safer than the candongueiros (mini-van buses) that take far less time – when, that is, their reckless drivers allow you to survive. So muggins traipses off to the 'station' on the dusty outskirts, where a pebble platform meets the eye with several tracks ending in broken rails. What most definitely does not meet the eye is any sign of a train - and a local says there hasn't been one there for Lord alone knows how long.

So it's a question of taking your life in your hands and hopping on a candongueiro. And boy, do they zip along. But the drivers seem quite skilled at swerving at the last moment to preserve their own lives, incidentally benefitting us too even if that is not their intent.

Lobito's Moorish government building

In Lobito there are two clapped out carriages in the station but when I try to take a photo I'm told sternly that it's verboten. Just as well I sneaked a shot a little way back over a wire fence. Meanwhile, the guy says there is indeed one train a day.

Lobito has a long sand spit called the Restinga, similar to the 'island' in Luanda, providing a great harbour. The broad tree-backed beach on the ocean side must have been pretty cool in its Portuguese heyday – for those that had, that is – with its pretty tiled villas. Those that hadn’t, of course, were confined to the slums on the other side of the water where they still stew. Now the Restinga is run down, and some ghastly block buildings are going up with huge red Chinese characters on them - hotels China is building.

The station square itself, though, is still redolent of the gentility of those who had, with the Moorish-style local government building still showing off its charms through years of wear and tear, the red roof of the pink Hotel Terminus poking through a curtain of green trees – and a few hundred yards further on the whimsically steepled white and red Church of Nossa Senhora da Arrabida.

Nossa Senhora da Arrabida church
Near the end of the spit on a roundabout a grey sea cabin cruiser perches high and dry - the Zaire, in which current president dos Santos left Angola in 1961 to foment the rebellion against Portugal, presumably from neigbouring  Zaire. He must have been influenced by his friend Fidel, who had the Granma, the cabin cruiser that took him and his cohorts from Mexico in 1956 to stoke rebellion in eastern Cuba, mounted outside the one-time presidential palace near Havana's water front.

Angola's 'Granma'

Meanwhile, as far as more immediate creature comforts go, a cool squeezed orange juice at the waterfront Zulu restaurant opposite goes for a cool $11.

Art sale next to the Zulu

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