Tuesday, August 24, 2010

19 - Bring on the Clowns

There are three clowns on the bus from Huambo to Luanda, besides your usual quiet Angolan passengers. There's the fat noisy meister-clown up front who spends his time bellowing to his two co-clowns down-bus, that is when he's not staggering up and down the aisle to quaff some more liquor with them, sitting on everybody's arm rest in the process. The meister-clown is called Rosario, a name more commonly associated with women; one of the co-clowns, even fatter than his master, wears dark dictator wrap-around sun-glasses. They're like cartoon caricatures. And so it goes on – bellowing, staggering and quaffing up bus and down bus. Would that the driver would slam on the brakes and propel Rosario through the windscreen. My bad!

                                                                               Huambo to Luanda

Roadside views
We have too many stops, for police checks, food purchases and, of course, peeing – squatting, blanket-draped women to one side, upright men to the other. But the scenery is splendidly otherworldly, worthy of Lord of the Rings or Avatar – weird giant grey crags and pinnacles jutting out of the savanna on the plateau; extensive copses of baobabs, all pot-bellied with crazily twisted upper branches, as we descend towards the coast.

More roadside views
We pass an overturned tractor-trailer spilling tomatoes and other produce all over the roadside, a crashed car wrapped around the entrance to a bridge, and the skeletons of many earlier wrecks. Our driver's wearing a park ranger type hat straight out of Smokey and the Bandit, and can't give any idea when we'll arrive. The important thing is to 'arrive well,' quoths he. There are several companies doing the route. Asked which is the best, a fellow passenger says it depends on the driver. Sounds like a bit of crap shoot against crashing.

After one stop the three clowns come on with more booze, the chickens in the back start crowing, and I make smiley faces at a little child. She starts bawling; now all the other infants join in. I stare back out of the window. Gee, officer Krupke, it's not me.

Baobab groves
 At one stop, we start off only to screech to a halt again. Rosario has forgotten to get back on. As we approach Luanda, Rosario helps departing passengers at intermediate halts to retrieve their cases and sacks from the hold. I get off to make sure he doesn't help them retrieve mine. Back on board the three clowns are having a great time, beer bottles in hand. Funnily, they're all OK individually, even if too loud.

At last, after 10 hours, we reach the final stop on the industrial outskirts of Luanda, 20 kilometres from the centre. For some obscure reason the three clowns have started to fight, shouting at each other and making threatening gestures and mock charges, but not before one of them explains to me how to get to where I want to go. There are, of course, no taxis. Instead whole convoys of blue and white candongueiro mini vans manoeuvre in and out with their conductors lurching half-body out of the windows and shouting destinations. I am to get the van to Chongolese and from there another to Maianga.
A portly baobab
They are jam packed, with music blaring at 1,000 decibels. Several refuse me because of my case, but with the help of a local I get on one, paying a seat for the case. The traffic is horrendous but we eventually make it to Chongolese, where the conductor helps me get on one for Maianga. Wow, this is easy, I must do it more often.

After a couple of kilometres, the brakes give out and we slither to a shaky halt. It's out once more to hunt for another craft. Again the usual hassle over the case, but fellow travellers are yet once more very helpful. The traffic gets worse and worse, especially near a local police station where a cop is holding everybody up in an interminable line to let his buddies get home. At last the candongueiro stops at its turn about point; miracle of miracles, it's only 50 feet from the Soleme inn. Who needs a $50 or $100 taxi, anyway, in this traffic snarl? And the total cost? $4 for both muggins AND case.

One of Luanda's smoother running streets

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