Some years ago, Lotty and I worked in Angola, arriving about three months after the 30 year civil war had ended, and found ourselves in a ruined country, in which travel was tricky to put it mildly. However, we were invited one day to go and look at the very first oil source in Angola.
This trip was organised by a couple who had been in Angola for a very long time, and both of whom worked in the oil industry there, as do almost all non-Portuguese expats.
Four of us from the International School of Luanda (where we worked) went on this trip, which meant leaving the school at 6:15 am! After recovering from this early start, we rumbled through a surprisingly active Luanda (This was a Sunday morning, by the way) to a section of Luanda called Mirimar, which I have never visited before, and appears to be the part where the rich and Embassies have their being… streets of very expensive looking houses, and the sure sign of wealthy people, lots of broken car window glass along the pavements (the Break the Window of the BMW and Steal Everything from Inside it syndrome). From here, we had a superb view of the port of Luanda, but we were warned not to take any photos of it, as it is considered to be a security risk if someone such as I should happen to have any snap shots of mountains of containers and lots of rusty ships… oh well……
Anyhow, there were about 50 of us, spread over some 25 huge 4×4’s, and after a short lecture beside the road about what we were going to see…… Off we headed, in a most imposing convoy.
It would have made the Mayor of London happy to have seen us, all those 2 ton SUV’s roaring along a perfectly good road. Oh well, you are nothing around here if you don’t have a monstrous 4×4.
We were heading north of Luanda, to a part of Angola that neither Lotty or I have yet seen, so we were very curious about what it would look like. It turned out to be flat….extremely flat, which is one reason there is oil to be found there… the land there is made up of sedimentary rocks, which are soft, and thus weather easily, unlike the granite which makes up about 90% of Africa (We were told all of this by the guy organising the trip).
Anyhow, we rumbled along happily in our convoy, causing people in the various villages and small towns we went through to wonder what the hell was going on, reasonably enough…. we were the event of the day for a lot of them, I reckon.
After a while, we stopped at a bridge over one of the regions main rivers to admire the view across the flat country to the mountains in the distance, but were warned not to stray too far from the cars, owing to the recently discovered presence of landmines all around this bridge (I was worried about how they had discovered them!) We sort of stood nervously around, taking photos of each other for a while, whilst the leader of our intrepid group told us a wee bit of war history, relating to this bridge and road. It seems that owing to the marshy quality of the land in this part of Angola, the only way for tanks to get across it was via this road and bridge. As the enemy (FNLA) neared this bridge, the gallant defenders of Luanda (MPLA) had posted a whole group of Stalin Organs (Multiple rocket launchers mounted on trucks) on top of a nearby ridge with the intention of blowing the FLNA tanks and soldiers to hell and back as they neared this bridge along the road. However, there was one problem… No one had a clue how to use the things!
Happily for the MPLA, and unhappily for the FLNA just at this moment plane loads of Cuban soldiers were being landed at Luanda airport, and it appeared that they did know how to use these things…. so post haste they were rushed to the trucks, and proceeded to blow the poor old FLNA to pieces on the road……. Messy business.
After having been regaled with this history of daring and…ummm… we piled back into our mini-tanks and carried on.
After about another 30 minutes we finally arrived at the main point of our trip… a rather derelict looking asphalt quarry in the middle of nowhere. Here we were going to be introduced to the first oil find in Angola (About 17 something).
We parked our cars beside an old Portuguese watch tower (built by the Portuguese to guard the road) and off we went into the quarry, also having been warned to only walk inside the quarry, not around its edges, as that was all mined too….. Poor Angola!
It was unbelievably hot in that quarry… above 40 degrees, and the heat radiated from the black, soft floor of the quarry. The whole thing was a sort of almost dry asphalt lake, with oil leaking up and down all around the place. It was actually fascinating as the fellow described how it all “worked”. It is apparently oil bearing shale we were looking at. If you cracked open any of the lumps of dull black “rock” around the place, they were all shiny inside with oil…black glistening oil… and at various points this oil was literally pouring, albeit slowly, out of the walls of the quarry and bubbling up through the floor of the quarry.
We looked at all of this, and had it explained to us in fine detail, which was really interesting, even to one such as I who has almost no real interest in geology, simply his enthusiasm and love of his subject was enough to make it interesting, and he knew how to dose the information too…
It was interesting. But soooooooooooooooooo hot! After a while we all began to droop from the unrelenting heat, so, back to the cars and away to a place by another river to have our sandwiches. This was some sort of private fishing lodge, as near as I could discover, which we could only visit by bribing the guard, ( $2 each car). It was full of rather affluent Angolans taking the sun, and also eating their sandwiches. All very pleasant and relaxed.. and apparently no landmines around. The river itself here was about 30 meters wide, and muddy looking. We were told it was full of crocodiles, so we felt that paddling might not be a good idea, never mind swimming! But it was fine to look at.
Then back into the cars, and away again… This time we ran into a Police road block, where they pulled us all over, and proceeded to demand everyone’s papers as one overweight policeman wandered around with a minute video camera filming us all in our cars….. The driver of our car, a French Diplomat refused to hand over his papers, holding his diplomatic passport carefully in front of the Policeman who came to our car demanding papers. Our driving Frenchman then demanded the name of the policeman, and proceeded to inform him that he would be lodging a complaint immediately with the diplomatic police and the foreign ministry if he (the policeman) attempted to take any papers from anyone in the car (which had CD plates). The cop backed down, and left us in peace. After gathering everyone else’s papers in he wandered off with them. After a lot of talking these papers were finally given back, and off our convoy rumbled again… No harm done to anyone.
Another pleasant day in Angola was passed in this way………
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