Angola is my third favorite country in Africa for various reasons. I was born in exile Angola, in a SWAPO refugee camp in Kwanza-Sul, during Namibia’s struggle for independence from the South African apartheid regime. I have fond memories of Angola from an early age of 10 when I left in June 1989 to go to Namibia after the war ended. Despite the war that my freedom fighter parents were fighting under SWAPO, my life in Angola was one of peace, joy, happiness and freedom. I felt so protected by SWAPO and the Angolan government that I had no worries or fears. All my basic needs such as shelter, food and clothing were provided for free. Life in Angola was great to me. It was the only life I knew and the first year In Namibia was not a happy one. I missed Angola and all my friends that I grew up with. Namibia seemed very strange. At one point, I wished that SWAPO would lose the election so that we could go back home to Angola to continue fighting the Boers…. Of course, that didn’t happen. SWAPO won and my parents and all exiled Namibians were happy to be back. I never got a chance to go back to Angola since I left in June 1989 but it has always been my dream to go back and visit my country of birth.
Early March 2017 while visiting the northern part of Namibia (Owamboland where my Oshiwambo culture and family originates from), I decided to take a quick trip Angola just to see how she looks like. I was required to get a yellow fever vaccination to travel into Angola. I wanted to see everything so flying to Angola was out of question as I wouldn’t be able to see much and I didn’t have a lot of time to tour the whole country. So, I decided to either drive or take the bus. A friend told me about a luxury and affordable bus that leaves from Namibia to Angola called Macon. Before I could settle for Macon bus I decided to do a bit of research two days before my scheduled trip into Angola. Just to prepare myself for the trip, I visited the Macon bus station on the border of Namibia and Angola in Oshikango/Santa Clara. Before I could enter the Santa Clara (Angola side of the border), I had to fill in my immigration papers with the Namibian immigration officials. I was traveling on my Namibian passport so I didn’t need a visa to go to Angola. Namibia is one of the few countries in the world who don’t require a visa to visit Angola. Our car didn’t obtain clearance to go into Angola before so I had to cross the border on foot which was just a matter of going to the other side of the gate which is kept open during normal business hours. It is very close and easy border to cross. You just basically walk through with no questions asked until you get to the Angolan Immigration counter didn’t look very secure. From what I witnessed, anyone could easily cross into Angola without proper documentation but you will probably get caught eventually while in Angola because they have a lot of road blocks where they check for IDs. But I heard one can easily bribe the officers and still make it through the road blocks without proper documentation. I would advise against entering Angola and any country without a visa and proper documentation.
Nonetheless, the Namibian side of the border (Oshikango) was very clean, very organized and orderly. I expected the same for the Angolan side (Santa Clara). As soon as we passed the Namibian side of the border, gang looking Angolans started hustling us. They offered to help us pass by immigration faster, they asked to exchange our money into Kwanza (Angolan currently). Some people were selling food and drinks in the open along the way to the immigration counter. It was a mess, compared to what we were accustomed to when we travel. But then again, this was my first time crossing any country border so maybe this is the norm but I doubt it…. When I got to the Angolan immigration counter, I saw people just passing through without their papers checked. I supposed the officials, somehow, knew who was a regular and who was visiting for the first time because my brother and I tried to just call through and they stopped us and we asked how come others could just pass through without being checked. Language was a problem at Immigration as they only spoke Portuguese and we only spoke Oshiwambo and English. Luckily, some of the Angolans speak Oshiwambo so they could translate to the officers. Soon after, we got our Namibian passports stamped and went through….
The reality of life in Angola hit us once again the moment we walked out of the immigration building. We were hustled right away again by gang looking youths who wanted to exchange our money into kwanza. They didn’t take no for an answer, they keep following us and when they stop, the next person carries on. I feared being robbed. Good thing I was with my brother and I didn’t go alone to check out the situation on the Angolan side of the border. I would have been terrified if I had gone alone. I wouldn’t advise any non-Angolans, females especially, to cross the border on foot alone. It’s just too messy. And to make matters worse, there’s no taxi service near the immigration building. We had to walk to the Macon bus stop which was quite a walk. We were offered a ride on one of those motor taxis who look so unsafe and they don’t provide helmets for passengers and the driver is not wearing a helmet either. Those motor taxis only take one person at a time so my brother and I would have been separated which was not an option at this point. So, we walked to Macon bus stop.
Besides being hustled all the way to our destination, our next shocker was the uncleanliness of Angola. We have already heard tales of how Angola is dirty and how Angolans are not very clean people from those who have interacted with them in Namibia and those who have visited Angola. I just didn’t believe it was this bad. Compared to the Namibia side of the border, Santa Clara was very dirty. There was trash and dirty running water everywhere. We even saw people standing in very dirty water with their shoes, no shoes and flipflops waiting in line, with no care at all about the unhygienic water. I suppose this is the norm for them and it doesn’t bother them. Now I understood why everyone is required to get yellow fever vaccination before they would be allowed to enter Angola.
Arriving at the Macon bus station was a relief and a ray of hope for Angola based on what I had seen up to that point. The gated bus station was very clean and had seating area, with phone charging ports and bathrooms and TV in the waiting area. It was also operating orderly and the customer service was superb. I inquired more about their service, the bus schedule, and the cost. They were indeed very reasonable. My trip to Lubango would cost less than US$50. My trip from Lubango to Luanda would cost less than US$100. I had gotten these information on their website which I was able to translate to English right now but I wanted to stop by and see for myself and ask all the necessary questions in person before I decide. I didn’t buy a bus ticket that day as I preferred to buy it at the same time when I leave, just in case I change my point.
We didn’t realize the border closes at 6pm (Angolan time) and 7pm (Namibian time). So, on our way back to Namibia, the border agents in Santa Clara wouldn’t let us through because the border was closed. They told us that the Namibian border was closed too. My brother and I started to panic. There’s no way we could spend the night in Santa Clara. We already didn’t feel safe enough in the town and we didn’t see any hotels while there. The only option would have been to sleep at the Macon bus stop but that was out of the question too. We didn’t know the border closed so early. I wish the immigration officers told us that we only had less than an hour because we told them that we are only going to visit the Macon bus stop and coming right back. To make matters worse, my sister was in the car with two toddlers and she doesn’t drive so it would not be safe for them to sleep on the Namibia side of the border either. We explained this to the immigration officers on the Angolan side and they let us through saying good luck, the Namibian immigration officers may not let you through. Once they let us through, we ran as fast as we could to the Namibian border. Everyone we passed was telling us the border was closed. One or two people told us to go and try to plead our case.
Indeed, the Namibian side of the border was closed too. We found people begging for the immigration officers to open for them so they can get into Namibia. The immigration officers had just closed the gate and were walking away when we got there. We called after them to please come and let us in but they just kept going saying the border is closed. I was so desperate that I was calculating how I’m going to jump the border fence and explain myself later. It wasn’t that high and I was determined that if I try, I would make it over. There was no way I was leaving my four-year son on the other side. Luckily, one of the immigration officers who saw us cross the border into Angola and who was there when we explained that we are coming right back, walked by and we pleaded with her to please help us out. She remembered us and went inside the building. She came back with the supervisor who also remembered seeing us. They eventually let my brother and I to get back into Namibia after hours. God bless their heart. We were so happy to be reunited with our family who were waiting for us in the car. Was it not for the two small children in the car, we would not have been forced to spend the night in Santa Clara. We were told to come back the next day to get our passports stamped so it would show a record of us having returned into the country. We lived to tell this tale and laugh about it. So, I would advise anyone using the border to make sure that they’re back way before 6pm before the border closes. Always ask what time the border closes because the immigration officers will most likely assume that you already know and won’t tell you. The time was written at the entrance somewhere but it is easy to miss if no one points it out.
Two days later, my brother and I decided that we would drive to Angola together as it would be faster than the bus and will provide more convenience and opportunity to sightsee properly along the way from Santa Clara to Lubango and then from Lubango to Luanda and then back. The night before we were supposed to leave, we were driving around in the village where the roads were bumpy and not tarred. This caused the back light of our car to fall off. We didn’t realize this until much later and all the repair shops were closed for the weekend. Our car wouldn’t be cleared to travel into Angola without all the lights working properly. I didn’t want to waste any more time and the uncertainty of having the light fixed on time, so I decided to take Macon bus to Angola.
On a Sunday morning, my brother escorted me to Macon bus station on foot as we left our car at the Oshikango border. Macon bus does not accept non-Angolan debit or credit cards. So, I went to all ATM machines between the border post and Macon bus stations, about 4 of them, to withdraw money so I can pay the bus but they were all not working. Luckily, I had 2000 kwanzas that I withdrew from one of these ATMs two days ago but I needed 2028 more and the money exchange hustlers could exchange my Namibian dollars into kwanzas. The Namibian dollar is well received in Angola because it is stronger in value. I could get enough kwanzas so I bought my ticket and boarded the Macon to Lubango. The bus was very clean and I had a front seat right behind the drive so I could see everything. The bus also had entertainment (music and movies to watch).
On my road trip to Angola, the first thing I noticed, other than the dirt and uncleanliness in Santa Clara, is how green the country is. The high way road was also excellent. I didn’t see any potholes until about 127 kilometers from Lubango. The Angolan passenger who sat next to me on my way to Lubango spoke good English so he could give me updates about Angola, economically, politically and culturally. He was also my translator as I didn’t speak Portuguese.
I arrived in Lubango at night, about 8 hours later since I left Santa Clara. The trip would have been 4-5 hours by car but the bus makes frequent stops. We stopped in every town that we passed. This was a good thing because I got to see all the towns on the way to Lubango and this exactly what I wanted; to see as much of Angola as I possibly could on the road trip. It was great to be back in Lubango. Lubango is the last place I lived in Angola before we left for good to go to Namibia. I lived in the SWAPO camps in Lubango so we didn’t interact with Angolans that much and Angolans were hardly seen in our camps. The Mwila tribe that lived near our SWAPO camps were the only Angolans I was a bit accustomed to but we were discouraged from interacting with them. I believe this was for security reasons. Nonetheless, a friend of my who I had never met but was introduced to me by a close of friend of mine who was her relative came to pick me up from the Macon bus stop. Her name is Mariana and she’s a very beautiful inside-out lady of Namibian origin but was now living in Lubango. Lubango wasn’t much different from all the other Angolan towns we drove by along the way, except that it was a bigger town. When I got to my friend’s house, they were having a birthday party so it worked out great for me because I love to party. The Angolan music of kizomba, semba, kuduro and tarraxinha was blasting through the speakers, the food was great, plenty of drinks and the vibe was just perfect. I’m a social butterfly so I didn’t waste any time. After I greeted everyone and got a bit settled, I got right on the dance floor and enjoy my first party in Angola. The people there were so wonderful, you would think we knew met before…
The next day, I went around Lubango. Our transportation was not available so Tatiana and I decided to take public transport… I didn’t want to get on the motor/bike taxi because they seem unsafe. Tatiana and everyone tried to convince me that they were safe but I couldn’t get over my fear of riding on a bike, especially when the passenger and driver didn’t have helmets. Unfortunately, I had no other choice as that was the only form of public transportation readily available and I was told that we were not going too far. So, I hopped on one of those. Boy, was I scared. First, people drive crazy in Lubango, I have noticed. There are no traffic lights so the bike was just maneuvering its way through the streets and crossing the roads was scary for me. I wanted to get to our destination quickly so I get off. I held on tight to the driver and I prayed that my fear wouldn’t distract him because an accident on one of these would be quite serious. I felt irresponsible agreeing to get on one of these. When we got to our destination, I told myself that never again, will I get on a motor taxi. Our destination was Millennium Mall, one of the major malls in Lubango. We went there so I could purchase a sim card or system as they call it for my phone so I can make calls and get on the internet at the local rate. Unfortunately, the Intel phone store there was down so I couldn’t purchase the “system”.
Tatiana said we must go to another store and that we must get on a motor taxi. I was like “no way am I getting on those again. I have a 4 year child who needs his mommy…. I can’t be this careless with my life…” I asked if we could just call a private taxi. Public taxis are the minivan that looked just as unsafe and overcrowded as you’re in there with a lot of other people. I have seen those mini vans drop off people while still moving and people getting on them while they were still moving and the door was still open. So, we called a private taxi where it will just be me and Tatiana. However, it was going to take a long time and it is much more expensive. We waited for a while and eventually I got tired of waiting and asked Tatiana if the store is within walking distance. It was about 10 minutes away so we walked to another Intel store and on the way, I got a chance to sightsee Lubango. It was beautiful, although unclean with trash and dirty running water, just like everywhere else I have been to Angola thus far. Unfortunately, that cell phone store’s system was down too. We went to another one and same thing. I ended up not getting a sim card and I had to roam as I got tired of asking to use other people’s phones to contact my family and son in Namibia. I was roaming on my USA contract number and my bill for two days of roaming came to about US$250. Bummer! But I had peace speaking to my son and making him feel like I was close and that he was fine. I couldn’t take him to Angola because he was too young for the road trip and I didn’t have a visa for him. I also didn’t know how Angola was so I didn’t want to take that chance with him.
Tatiana and I walked around downtown Lubango which was walking distance from where I was staying. The foot tour was fun but my face felt dirty from all the street dust and dirt. I quickly washed it when I got home as it was the most uncomfortable feeling. My face is very sensitive to dirt and I felt the same way I feel when I’m a room full of smokers. Nonetheless, Lubango was wonderful and the people I was with were wonderful and made me feel so welcome. I went on another tour of Lubango the next time by car this time. We went to see mountain Tundavala, Jesus Christ Statue and I got a chance to see more of Lubango. I couldn’t make it to the snake looking road because it was just too scary for me.
A few days later, I left Lubango with Macon bus for Luanda, the capital city of Angola. I wanted to stop by in Lobito as I lived there for a few months when I was 7 years old and had fond memories of the seaside town where I stayed right by the beach. I was running out of time and couldn’t stop by in Lobito so I went straight to Angola. The road to Angola was bumpy with a lot of potholes. Thank God I was in a huge bus and felt safe from accidents. I was so glad that I didn’t drive with my brother because the roads were so rough. Our car would have broken down and we would have been more prone to accidents. It would have been very unsafe for us, especially if we broke down in the middle of nowhere…. I believe God caused that light to fall off to protect us… Nonetheless, the trip to Luanda was fun. Again, I was lucky enough to sit in the front row, right behind the driver. I asked to swap a sit with someone on the bus because it was my first time in Angola and I wanted to see everything. They understood that I was a tourist and were very accommodating…. One of the things that stuck out for me during this road trip was the Unita place that I passed one time with a SWAPO convoy and feared for my life. This place is where a lot of Unita rebels used to hide out in a ditch nearby and ambush oncoming cars, mostly Angolan cars. SWAPO convoy was safe as it was guarded by SWAPO soldiers so Angola civilians used to join the convoy so they can safely cross this point during the war. However, I saw dead bodies for the first time when I pass by there at the age of 6. I could never forget the sight of Angolan civilian cars burning with bodies inside the cars and on the ground with their legs sticking out. This was when there was civil war in Angola between the MPLA and Unite forces. So, it was quite amazing driving there again. This time it was a peaceful sight because the civil war ended when Savimbi, the leader of Unita was killed a few years ago.
I also drove passed Sumbe the capital city of Kwanza-Sul the province in which I was born. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to go around Kwanza-Sul as my destination was Lubango but I intend to make another trip with more time to visit Kwanza-Sul. We eventually arrived in Luanda and I fell in love with Luanda once more. The city is surrounded by the beach and I’m one of those people who loves the beach and just being around the water. The city may not be as clean but it sure is beautiful and bustling with energy. One of my friends, Cafala, picked me up from the bus station and took me around Luanda. I spent the night at my cousin Martha’s place who lives in Luanda. It was nice seeing everyone. The next day I went on another beautiful tour of Luanda and spent some time at Miami Beach, one of the popular beaches in Luanda.
My time in Angola was short and went by very fast. Four days later, I returned to Namibia. The plan was to fly back as I didn’t need to take the long bus ride back anymore, now that I have seen everything that I needed to see. I went to buy a plane ticket but they were sold out and the next one available wasn’t leaving until two days later. The plane ticket to Ondjiva, the Angolan town closest to the Namibian border, the town after Santa Clara, was about 35,000 kwanzas. The bus would get me there sooner and at only 14,000 kwanzas. So, I decided to take the bus back. It was a long trip but well worth every time spent. I had an amazing time in Angola and I’m happy to finally say that I have been back to Angola since I left in 1989. I will be back again soon and with more time. The purpose of this trip was just to see Angola and reintroduce myself to my country of birth. My goal was accomplished and I have memories to last me until I visit again.