Driving into Luanda is quite the shock. At first the city is a big sprawling slum, with badly broken roads and people living in tin huts surrounded by trash. As soon as I break into the city proper, everything changes in an instant, and I see development like I have never before seen in on this continent.
I am on a very wide and beautiful boulevard, water on one side and the high-rise city on the other. Immediately I feel as if I have driven into Miami or San Diego. The city is extremely clean and modern, with glass-sided skyscrapers climbing high. Manicured grass, a huge footpath and palm trees line the boulevard, and the feeling is a modern beach-side city.
It turns out the manager of the Luanda Yacht Club loves travelers, and is basically the friendliest person in the world. We make our way around there and soon setup camp right on the waters edge, with million dollar views past all the boats to the city scape beyond. Access to a shower and wifi is icing on the cake.
High on a hill overlooking the city lies the National Museum of Military History. On one of many beautiful sunny days we walk the mile or so towards the huge fort and enjoy most of a day poking around. The Museum is top-class, easily as good as other places in the world. The entrance fee is almost nothing. It is eye opening to see the devastation that almost 30 years of civil war caused, and the impact it has has on the national psyche.
It is horrible to see so much expensive military equipment so obviously from the US and Russia – Angola’s was one of the most famous proxy wars ever fought.
An another sunny day we stroll the waterfront and stumble into the brand new Museum of money. It’s fascinating the see the history of not only Angola’s currency, but those from all of the world. I am a little surprised to see they only have a couple of coins from Australia on display – if I had known I would have brought a few more from my stash in the Jeep!
A highlight is a full size gold bar on display in a thick plastic case. It has holes in the top so I can put my hands in and pick it up, but obviously I can’t get it out. As you might guess it is shockingly heavy, and I am able to easily scratch and dent it with my fingernails. The guards standing two feet away don’t seem to mind.
One evening a friendly locals wanders by our ‘campsite’, and we get to learn he has a 4×4 and loves camping all over Angola and Namibia. Through the Overland world we even have friends in common, and so soon his son and wife and grandchild all show up and we are chatting and learning much more about Angola. Soon our maps have all kinds of notes and suggestions, making us more excited than ever to head out and explore this country.
I furiously take notes on Portuguese. Most of the time locals can understand my Spanish, though it is frustrating when I can not understand their replies. I quickly learn I need to adjust my accent and pronunciation, and I will already have hundreds of words directly from Spanish.
Luanda is a really nice city!