Luanda - A city of Porsches and potholes

2012-09-03 07:45

 There is nothing in Luanda you can take at face value.

Fancy new buildings have sewage running down the side streets and roads are so bad that the car ride makes your insides shake. But there is no shortage of Porsches and Lamborghinis in the city.

You get used to the contrasts after a while. You accept that even if you stand at the front door of Sonangol, the state oil company, the stink of open drains might make you sick.  You understand that although this is one of the richest cities in Africa, you will find no decent pavements or parking spots. You believe that maybe one day the energy of the young men who roam the streets aimlessly can be harnessed to fix the old buildings in desperate need of restoration.

But after a week in Luanda one thing still takes my breath away – the cost of everything. For a treat last week two friends and I went for a meal that consisted of more than just our stock standard peri-peri chicken and chips. We had a buffet meal at a seaside restaurant and a few beers. I gasped when the bill came to R2 000. And before you ask – there was no crayfish, champagne or even dessert as part of the buffet.

But even the aforementioned peri-chicken-and-chips combo at a roadside restaurant with dirty tablecloths would set you back R160, and that’s minus a cuca – the local beer which everyone seems to drink like water, maybe because you can’t drink the tap water...

Hotel rooms with only electricity, running water and a TV cost R2 100 while rooms at the five star Talatona Convention Centre Hotel start at R4 600. If you believe in value for money, Luanda’s not your place.

Ironically, the only cheap item on an Angolan shopping list is petrol, because of the oil riches the country has. But by the same token, there are no reliable car taxis, or cabs.  It is said this is because the roads make the maintenance of cars too expensive. Looking around the city that clearly has become much too small for its inhabitants, you see maintenance is generally not a priority in Angola. While driving through suburbs, my guide points to roads which were tarred ten years ago, but now look like a footpath.

So how do people survive here? On cheap Chinese imports, second-hand clothes and very little food. Work for uneducated women is confined to selling vegetables in the open-air markets, and during the election period they were allowed to operate informal restaurants next to the beach where they could sell braaied fish and chicken to youngsters.

Even graduates can only hope to earn between R8 000 and R16 000 per month, while a windowless and waterless two-bedroom flat sets you back R4 000.

But you’d never know these hardships if you visit Looka, a beach club on the newly renovated peninsula strip that may one day give Camps Bay a run for its money. Here Porsche Cayennes and BMW X6s line the pavements waiting for their owners to finish partying. At Looka the entry fee is $30 for men, who will get six free beers or two cocktails as part of the price. But the real prize waits inside. Looka is a hotspot for moneyed men – mostly foreigners – looking for good time girls.

The dress sense of these girls can be described as “extreme”. Extremely high heels with extremely short skirts and extremely expensive weaves. They occupy the dance floor in groups, allowing the men to see them from all sides before those with money and guts make their move and pick a lady for the night.

I couldn’t establish what their rates are, but I can’t imagine they come cheap.

Follow me on Twitter @MandyRossouw.

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