Wednesday, August 25, 2010

20 - Travelling in Style

Today enough of the buses – I'm travelling in style. At the enormous cost of $375 a day I've rented the car and driver for two days to go several hundred miles inland to see what are billed as a spectacular water fall and a superbly weird collection of giant boulders on the savannah. Anyway, the bus to the nearest town, Malanje, would take nine or 10 hours and then there’s no regular transport to the falls.

View Luanda to Kalandula and Pungo N'Dongo in a larger map

Trees a policeman decrees verboten
Large sections of the road, tar-surfaced by the Chinese less than three years ago, are already cratered with deep pot holes; and where they are not pot-holed they are ribbed, ridged, wrinkled, valleyed and gulleyed. The Chinese apparently put on too thin a surface, and never laid proper foundations or made drainage allowance for tropical rains. They built this, as with other work here, on credit, accepting future batches of Angolan oil for payment. Now the Chinese road workers have buggered off home, leaving the Angolans to try to repair the mess – but still taking their oil payments. We pass a huge Chinese factory compound where all the workers are Chinese, many of them criminal prisoners according to expats here, living on site. Again, so much for trying to give unemployed Angolans jobs.

The change from arid to rain forest along the route
Away from the coastal flatland we rise through a totally different ecosystem of thick rain forest to the plateau. We pass a mother carrying a completely fair-skinned albino baby on her back. Albinos are not uncommon; here's hoping they treat them better than in Tanzania or wherever, where they kill them as sorcerers or for some other superstitious reasons. As usual people throw drink cans and other garbage out of the windows. And as usual, we pass the regular crop of wrecked vehicles, including a spectacularly overturned truck in a river where the driver thought better of taking the bridge.

 We are stopped at many police checkpoints where my passport is scrutinized. Just as well I have it with me, and not merely the photocopy, since one foreigner was recently arrested when he only had the copy. He was taken to the police station and held pending someone bringing his passport from the hotel. It was a Friday, the person with the keys to the hotel safe was away for the weekend – which the guy then spent in a prison cell, leaving the country in disgust when he was finally released on the Monday and swearing never to come back.

Another verboten tree
At one checkpoint the cop smiles sweetly at the driver and says: 'Have you got a good week end for me,' another euphemism for bribe. The driver says he has nothing. At another, muggins takes photos of some baobab trees in the forest, in the exact opposite direction from the checkpoint. The cop reads me the riot act: 'You should always ask administrative permission to take any photos; you can't go around like that just clicking away.' Gee, Officer Krupke, pu-lease!

Verboten or kosher? No policeman to advise here

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