As a veteran traveller I was astonished at how difficult it was to get a visa for Angola. The last time I had such a hard time was when I visited Russia. It took over a month, a costly letter of invitation, other well-written supporting documentation, a criminal clearance and quite a few pounds to finally secure a visa. Then the advisories about crime, live landmines and unexploded ordnance arrived. Although I was very excited about going to Angola, this was cause for concern. After all, I was about to enter a country that was war-torn for decades. I kept wondering why Angola was not interested in tourists but after arriving, my question was soon answered.
Angola = Oil
Angola is beautiful. The landscape and vegetation are quite similar to Mozambique and other parts of Africa. Only on this incredible continent will you find grasslands, savannahs, jungles, deserts, baobabs and mountain ranges, all in one country. A tourist’s dream destination, except for one little problem: something known as black gold. To say that Angola is a producer of oil is an understatement. Angola and oil may as well be synonymous. Unfortunately the oil business in Angola is pretty much run by foreign oil companies taking advantage of a corrupt government to exploit natural resources and abuse a cheap labour force. Sadly, this is the reality for many contemporary African countries.
Landmines, bombs and crime – where?
It turned out that Angola was surprisingly safe. So safe that it was okay to camp on the side of the road without coming to harm. The only things that came my way were swarms of mosquitoes and friendly smiles from curious locals. According to these charming individuals, most of the landmines had been removed and there is nothing to worry about. I can only surmise that the warnings were to deter tourists because the country is clearly making more money depleting their natural resources than what they would from tourism, which is a great pity since the country has so much to offer. Fantastic fauna and flora and enchanting locals, a wonderful climate; what more can you want?
Beautiful, gentle people. If you visit Southern Angola, there is no doubt you will come across this fascinating tribe. The Himba people still wear traditional calfskin clothing and sport ornate hairstyles (styled according to societal status.) One of the most fascinating traditions is that they wear a red paste spread all over their bodies and hair. Made from butterfat and ochre, this paste is to keep them clean and to protect them from insect bites; it is not always possible to wash because water is scarce for these nomadic tribes. It is also considered aesthetically pleasing to be the colour of the earth. If only I could have spent my holiday out in the sticks with the Himbas and did not have to brave the cities without a small fortune at my disposal.
Make sure you bring a LOT of money
The cities are a curious mix between modern day Africa and olden day Portugal. The Portuguese influence is very obvious in the architecture and in the little bit of food I did manage to enjoy. As always, food with a Mediterranean influence is delectable. The problem is that everything is insanely expensive. So, unless you want to eat soup and bread for every meal (although this really is delicious) or make your own food, which is what I ended up doing, make sure you budget well for a trip to Angola. Or make sure you brush up on your dish washing skills, in case you realise the meal you just ate is more than what you can afford.