Angola’s narrow coastal plain rises to a vast plateau of sparse grassland with mountains in the center. Tropical forests cover the north and the small territory of Cabinda, which is divided from the rest of Angola by Zaire. The southern part is desert, and the official language is Portuguese. Angola was my tour of duty that summer when I was ordered to take part on a medical and humanitarian mission to vaccinate the children of Angola in 2012. Backed up by sufficient funds from our medical hospital in America, our five man team of Pediatric medical professionals pushes thru our aim of providing vitamins, medical assistance and nutritional information campaign for thirty days to the impoverished kids of Angola. It was a humbling and eye opening experience to see the struggle of a country to survive the political and territorial disputes on its borders.
Towards the end of our mission we have been able to go around and enjoy what this war torn country has to offer. Travelling with a local was very helpful as he spoke on our behalf whenever we visit an attraction in Angola specifically in the capital city called Luanda. Our guide drove a long well paved road to get us to the Ilha do Mussulo. This island has the best private resorts and nice clean beaches all over Angola. It is lined with cozy restaurants fronting the Atlantic Ocean. In the harbor I saw women packing fish into boxes. Fishing is important in Angola’s coastal areas. Mackerel and sardines swim in the cool Atlantic waters and provide valuable food and income for Angolan people. To explore the beaches we ride motorized boats to reach the Kanawa Beach. It is a beach with wide open spaces for tourists to promenade as the sun sets. This beach is filled with water activities like Jet Ski riding, boating and speedboat racing. I love the tranquility of this beach, fine golden sands, the white chair loungers, and the thatched hut cabanas. Bathing in the sea that has strong waves did not deter our effort to enjoy the Atlantic waters.
We also have the chance to see ancient art pieces at the National Anthropology Museum (Museu Nacional de Antropologia). The two storey museum boasts of old sculptures, artworks and exhibitions. The ground floor is moderately interesting with all kinds of fish sculptures, hunting tools, metal craftworks, traditional clothing, ethnic instruments and paintings. The first floor is a bit poorly maintained with improper lighting. Upstairs was more pleasant with many kinds of stuffed animals that are educational for children to review and observe closely. After an hour we went to the nearby Cidade Alta. It represents the modern side of the city. It is a beautiful place in the neighborhood that is near the Presidential Palace. We were not able to fully enjoy this side of the city as security forces were very strict on group tours. Still we had a good glimpse of the palace from afar. Just a stone’s throw away from the Cidade we passed by an old church named the Igreja de Jesus (The Church of Jesus). In the 16th century this simple Baroque style architecture church used to be a Protestant church. A grade school and park now stands beside this ancient church. I took pictures of its façade that has 16 columns and three levels.
Within the downtown area we saw an old dilapidated building that stands as a mute witness of a bygone era; The Grande Hotel. Our local guide narrated to us that this once grand establishment which was built in 1910 use to be the coolest place to find the most prominent people of this country. But with the onset of the civil war in the 1960’s the hotel became a refuge for the beleaguered civilians. Located close to the harbor docks of the Bay of Luanda the first luxury hotel of this city has vandalized exteriors and desolate looking interiors. On the right side of this hotel tourist still flock and take pictures at the façade of an abandoned old train terminal called the Maianga Train Station. This former station use to stretch for up to a 45 kilometer travel across the country. Built around the 18th century this structure was the first train station in Angola. It is also a famous landmark and meeting point in the city. From here we saw an old hospital that still serves the medical needs of the Angolans called the Hospital Maria Pia (Josina Machel Hospital). The historical hospital has a Neo Classical style of architecture and filled with modular panels for enough light and air to provide its patients.
One imposing structure that caught my attention while in the old town was a yellow steel structure called the Palacio de Ferro. Although it was closed to the public and heavily guarded by security forces it was not clear on what purpose this building stands for. The building is said to be designed by the famous Gustave Eiffel. Nevertheless, the imposing building is a sight to behold around the premises of the old town. Not to be outdone a nearby huge mansion that formerly housed a rich family in Luanda now stands proudly as the office of the mayor and more popularly known in the modern times as the Tribunal Provincial Government Building. We extended charity work for the children and mothers that reside at the adoption center of the Igreja de Nossa Sra. do Cabo (Our Lady of the Cape). Founded during the 15th century this simple church with fewer adornments on its interiors houses most of the kids orphaned during the heat of the civil war. After hearing a regular Sunday mass, we gave some of the vitamins and health supplements we have in our care as a donation to their foundation. As we toured the grounds we were happy to see how sufficient their vegetable garden is. Most of the Roman Catholic Church in this city makes use of the orphans as acolytes or servers during mass proceedings.
On the way to the Mussulo we passed by an apartment style building called the National Slavery Museum. The museum capitalizes on the curiosity of the locals and tourists about the time of slavery during the Portuguese civil war. After here we stopped on a monument that resembles a tower that seems to shoot up the sky, the towering Mausoleum of Agostinho Neto. He was the first leader of Angola. On this monument our guide gave us the background of the political unrest during his rule. Written in the history books of Angola, he is regarded as a local hero who made Angola and Cabinda united in revolution. Cuba’s Fidel Castro supported the former first President and the communist group in its fight for freedom. The communist group was also backed by the former Soviet Union and Germany, while South Africa gave support to its rivals more. Cessation of hostilities came in 1975, but then the rebels fought each other for power to govern the country. In the early 1990’s, the United Nations supervised both elections and peace talks, but the war continued until the present modern times. A country that always has threats of terrorism and unprecedented attacks from its enemy security risks for tourists are always present on their travel advisory warnings.
Having seen the uncertainty but indomitable spirit of the Angolans in the bleak future of more political unrests, totally transformed my view about the need to choose the qualities of the people we select to lead our country. With our noble charity work I know I made a big difference in their lives, I pray their people find the need to help their country find its true peace.