19 September 2009

Malanje

I may have saved the best weekend trip for last. I have been impressed with the potential for tourism in Angola, and a quick trip to Malanje last weekend only reinforced that opinion. The ride from Luanda involves a gentle climb through a large imbondeiro (baobab) forest to the town of Dondo, at which point we continued in the direction of Malanje only to find that a bridge was under construction about 20 minutes down the road. There were cars waiting, so we thought it might be a temporary close. Rolling down the window to ask for an estimate, we were told that the bridge should be open by Monday (it was Saturday morning). We found an alternate (unpaved) route and amazingly didn’t end up losing much time.

The Kalandula Falls (known as the Duque de Bragan├ža Falls during colonial times) were impressive. The remarkable part about it for me was that there is absolutely nothing stopping you from walking right up to the edge, and falling over should you be so unlucky. The large sandstones in the river bed atop the falls are full of carved graffiti from colonial times and make for some interesting reading. During the visit I kept thinking how waterfalls are a curious attraction. I think they are beautiful, but what exactly are you supposed to do there? I find myself staring at the falls in sections, fixing my gaze on one section of water’s journey downward and then picking a new section when the water I was previously watching is down. Then I focus back to take in the overall scene. I mean, what else could you possibly do? It sounds so boring when you’re writing about it, but people travel hundreds of miles and sometimes base their entire vacations around doing nothing but what I just described. Maybe it’s inspiring. In any event, I spent some time scrambling on the river rocks taking care never to get too close to the edge. And then it was time to go, which was fine by me.

After a quiet Saturday night in town we got up early and drove to the Pedras Negras area, which was another surprise. The road leading into the main area isn’t marked, but we were able to confirm the route by stopping to ask one of the locals in a nearby village. At this point I got out of the truck and rode standing up in the truck bed as we drove down the dirt road through the massive rock formations. We came to another village (Pundo Andongo), this one with paved roads and electricity – a definite leftover from Portuguese times. On the other side of the village was an area with footprints in the smooth rock with a barrier. It turned out we were visiting at the same time as the delegation from the “Miss Malanje” pageant that was due to be held the following weekend. The contestants were taking cheesy photos with the rocks in the background and it was awesome. We asked someone what the footprints meant and got the reply that it was the “footprint of the queen.” Highly doubtful, but we didn’t press for more details. After exploring a bit more and summiting one of the rocks for an impressive view it was time to start the long drive back to Luanda. We took a different route that was in even worse shape than the previous one, and after three hours of shock therapy it was a relief to find the asphalt again. The highlight of the return trip was the need to ford a river with a steep incline on the opposite side (the adjacent bridge was not yet open). We watched a semi full of Coke bottles take two tries to make it up, but luckily we fared better.

Throughout the weekend drive we passed many villages made of mud dwellings with straw roofs. It seemed to be the season to put on a new layer of straw, which makes sense since the rainy season is just around the corner. We’d pass women beating cassava into paste to make funge with the large wooden utensils I had only previously seen in the anthropology museum in Luanda. There were pigs, goats, and chickens roaming around the villages and kids playing soccer. None of these villages had power or running water from what I could tell. It was a glimpse into a life from another century…


Road hog:


Driving through the Baobab Forest:


"The Queen's Footprint":


If at first you don't succeed:


Approaching the Pedras Negras:


Looking down to Pungo Andongo:


Last look at the Pedras Negras:

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