Saturday, August 14, 2010

9 - Walkabout

 Time for muggins to do another walkabout. The guidebook suggests only car tours in view of rampant daylight muggings (and absolutely no walking about at all after dark), but I don't have $1 million to rent one, so here goes for a trip up to Miramar, with its exclusive red-tiled pink embassies and yet more homes for the rich and corrupt - a particularly large mansion under construction is said to be for the president. As always, the vistas of abject poverty abound, too.

I leave everything in the safe back at the Soleme, including my passport, taking a photocopy in its place. All I have on me are my camera and $30 in local kwanzas. I find a back way to avoid Zig-Zag Road, which the guidebook cites as dangerous for two reasons: muggings are common and shipping containers have a nasty habit of falling off the backs of lorries and rolling down on top of you.
Miramar mansion under construction

Once in Miramar there are plenty of armed guards, so I think I'll be OK, unless of course they're also moonlighting as muggers. A guy is swinging a dirty great machete near a work site by the side of the street. Perhaps he just uses it to trim his nails. Now another gent approaches bearing the biggest catapult I ever seen, with a massive rubber belt. Just whistle on by.

Boavista musseque (slum) as seen from Miram
At the top there's luxury-misery cheek-by-jowl horror where giant Cuban-built high-rise slums shed their skin, that is where this is not hidden by endless lines of washing. Yet further on a leprous scar gouges its lebensraum on the hills above the port where a vast slum of hovels teeters on the edge of the slopes above a cataract of foul refuse. Miramar means sea-view, the musseque is called Boavista - great view. Weird! Anyway, mission accomplished. I came, I saw, I wasn’t robbed.

Indeed, it's not the muggers who get me. I've just surreptitiously taken a photo of the US embassy on the way back, and now three humongous dark-blue clad policemen are descending on me - revolvers on hips, batons in hand. Verboten, they growl. They demand my passport and at first refuse the photocopy, muttering 'prisoner, prisoner' and speaking on their phones. They make me erase the photo; another honcho comes up and takes my camera and papers across to a kiosk outside the freaking embassy. After 10 minutes a fourth cop comes back with my camera and asks me what I was doing. Taking photos, says I. Verboten, says he. I explain that I have erased it, but he goes back with the camera, returns after another 15 minutes, says he's erased another two photos and lets me go on my way.
Intercontinental Hotel under construction on Zig-Zag road
Back in the centre of town outside the National Assembly ceremonial guards with shining drawn sabres and what look like green ferns sprouting from their blue caps stand watch. A smiling 'can I ask you to say cheese for my dinky little camera' elicits a growled 'nein, verboten' and what looks to my fevered eye like an incipient slashing gesture.

OK, they’re not actually speaking German. What they say is 'nao, proibido.' But German sounds so much more apt than Portuguese for dictatorial speak. Just compare 'verboten' with their lilting 'proibido.' The latter sounds more like a dance - baila, baila la bamba; baila, baila o proibido!

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